War Correspondent Marina Kharkova: “We Need Only Victory and Freedom”

By Nikita Che

After collecting some questions about  developments in Donbass from our readers abroad, I asked them to war correspondent Marina Kharkova from Donetsk. Being a civilian journalist since early 1990’s, in 2014 she continued to report about the new situation around her, and this new one was a war.

“Tell me please, what is the current combat situation in Donbass?”

“The war in Donbass has been going on for almost three years. The Minsk accords don’t work properly, though they could reduce the level of Ukrainian aggression. Now the Ukrainian army can’t use aircraft like they did in 2014, when they targeted residential houses and killed civilians with non-guided missiles in Donetsk city; in Zugres when the public beach was shelled when families with their kids took rest there; in Shakhtyorsk, Snezhnoe, Lugansk, and so on. In the same way, the enemy can’t destroy populous Donbass cities using weapons of mass-destruction such as Grad missiles, Uragan, Tochka-U, heavy artillery, and so on.

As a result of the Minsk accords, now Kiev is not allowed to commit genocide on the pro-Russian population in Donbass under guise of the weird words ‘anti-terrorist operation.’ However the accords didn’t  stop the war. It’s still ongoing, so people are still being murdered, both civilian and military, houses are burning down in shelling. There are so many wounded, disabled, and forced migrants in Donbass.

The war changed its face. Now Ukraine tried to choke Donbass to death with regular shellings from mortars, howitzers, tanks, grenade launchers, and so on, intentionally targeting hospitals, schools, power and water supply facilities, and residential houses. Hardly a day goes by without shelling or terrorist actions by the Ukrainian troops.

It is especially hard for residents of front-line areas. Since 2014, they are often forced to live in basements, they lose their relatives and friends, their homes and property is systematically being destroyed.  They don’t know in the afternoon whether they will survive the night, whether their home will be turned into rubble and ash.

So all the talks about the ‘frozen conflict’ in Donbass, I regard as cunning, unreliable and harmful, though this wording just covers the unpleasant truth. For example, 570 hits on the DPR area, three wounded people and fourteen damaged houses, according to the official data on the 1st of December, 2016 – they’re odd figures for the ‘frozen conflict’, aren’t they?

Besides ongoing shelling, Ukraine uses terrorist tactics, including installing land mines in civilian areas or assassinating the Republic’s residents.

Kiev also is enforcing an economic blockade on Donbass, having closed banks and stopped social payments.

Acting as real thugs, the Kiev authorities at the same time complain about mythical ‘Russian aggression.’ That’s weird, but we, Donbass residents, can see only Ukrainian one, and hear the politicians’ words on our ‘wrong genetics’ and suggestions to create concentration camps for us. All these words are manifested from the Fascist ideology Ukraine took.  

So when people in Odessa were burned alive for their political opinions, people in Donbass understood: either we allow them to kill us, or we resist.”

“Why can’t the Republics repel the enemy and liberate their territory? They have a lack of power, or some another reason?” 

“The Minsk accords initially led to a stalemate for both sides. Neither political, nor economic, nor military issues are able to be settled by the accords. There are too many unsolved contradictions. Kiev doesn’t implement their obligations, and the Republics are compromising unilaterally and to their own detriment.

It looks like a bad thriller. A maniac kills his victim, who obediently exposes her throat and asks ‘strangle me more.’ The Republics’ residents are just hostages of political issues, their opinions and wishes are not regarded as essential.

Yes, both sides were forced to sign the Minsk agreements. So the Republican military and political authorities are bound by them; there are no plans to suppress the enemy, there is only a schedule on concessions. The Republics implement the accords implicitly, but that’s a one-sided game, without any result on a peace settlement or the turning Ukraine into a friendly and quiet neighbor.

Also there is no time frame for the implementation, so the situation could last ever. The sides use the time differently. Ukraine is enforcing its Armed Forces for the revanche and definitive suppression of Donbass, and the Republics are working hard to create their own model of a state.”

“Tell us about the concrete results from diplomatic attempts to resolve the conflict?”

“For me, all these results boil down to the wordings ‘advances are not to be expected,’ ‘there is no any alternative to the Minsk accords,’ ‘we have to work on the communication map for settlement.’ This rhetoric is annoying enough because, as I think, it exists in some parallel reality. When you hear mortar or tank shots, you really wish to sit the envoys in a bomb shelter in Petrovka [Donetsk suburbs near the front line – ed] for at least two days. Maybe, after the continuous sounds of the roar of the bombardment, their bargaining stance would be more viable? There are terrorists, fascists and murderers of civilians among those who fight against Donbass. I, personally, can’t get at all why we conduct negotiations with them.”

“Can we expect the emergence of other People’s Republics, such as Kharkov or Odessa?”

“The right moment for this is hopelessly lost, which the Minsk accords also contributed to. Those who seized power in Kiev have already strengthened their authority and created a dictatorship pro-Fascist regime. According to OSCE reports, there are illegal covert prisons for dissidents in Ukraine. Many of those who participated in the South-East resistance in 2014 went missing. Many of those who held the same views as we did were either threatened, or fled the country.

If you are chained, you should liberate yourself first, and only after that you can help others to do the same. The current geopolitical situation is a hindrance here. Merkel and Hollande support Poroshenko’s regime and turn a blind eye on its limitless cruelty and non-democracy. So one shouldn’t expect any positive changes neither in Ukraine, nor for unfulfilled Novorossiya.”

“You meet many military servicemen. How many among them are people outside Ukraine, from Russia and other countries?”

“An overwhelming majority of our militiamen who later became our military, were local guys from Donbass. I also met volunteers from Odessa, Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev, Vinnitsa, Zhitomir and other Ukrainian regions. Our defenders consist of not only them, but also volunteers from Russia, Serbia, Czech, France, Brazil, and the US. They all didn’t like that Ukrainian thugs kill Donbass children, women and elderly people, so their consciousness didn’t allow them another way than to join our struggle. They are very brave, honest and sincere men and women, real heroes. Many of them have got several wounds and contusions, and every time they came back to their positions, never giving up.

I saw once outside an old babushka walked over to my acquaintance Sergey, a Russian volunteer from Siberia, hugged him. With her wizened  hand, she stroked his dusty green uniform  and just said: ‘Thank you, son. Thank you for your fighting for us and Donbass.’ There were many other such cases, but this one touched me very deep.”

“What can you say about those who fight on the other side? What purpose do they serve? What role does their neo-nazi, Banderist  ideology play?”

“I have neither friends, nor acquaintances among those who fight against us. So my opinion is based on talks with either Ukrainian captives, or wounded Ukrainian soldiers treated in our hospitals. 

Some of them went to war unwillingly, being drafted. They didn’t want to fight.

Another part regards the war as a job: military salary, signing a contract, as well as looting and robbing locals. Just business, nothing personal.

An essential part of neo-Nazi battalions, like Right Sector, Azov, Tornado, Dnepr and so on, are led by hatred towards everything Russian. Yes, they share Fascist, Banderist ideology. They use swastikas, Fascist rhetoric, Banderist types of torture and execution. For them,  Donbass became a target as a symbol of Russian-ness. For us, any reconciliation with them is impossible.

And what do the mobilized Ukrainian soldiers fight for, I really don’t understand. For their President Poroshenko to lead his business in Russia and to construct more and more factories?”

“We often hear about terrorist acts in Donbass, both committed or prevented. The assassination of Motorola, for example. How widespread is pro-Ukrainian sentiment in Donbass, can the terrorist acts be guerrilla warfare by pro-Ukrainian locals?”

“There are very few locals among the Donbass people, having lived under shellings, who are sympathetic towards Ukraine. The most radical lovers of Ukrainian-ness moved from the Republics two years ago. Some of them didn’t like where they resided and later came back. They do have such sentiments. They live with the illusions of previous, peaceful Ukraine and can’t adopt to the new reality.  

Terrorist acts are committed by special agents trained by Ukrainian secret services, who are sent to our land. The agents have abettors, but an agent ring was formed before 2014.

So any guerrillas of pro-Ukrainian locals exist only in the myths of Ukrainian propaganda.”

“What can you say about the sentiments of those Donbass residents who live in the Kiev-held areas?”

“In May 2014 referendum, all of Donbass voted for independence. So people made their choice. They don’t want to live under a military Fascist dictatorship, with economic collapse and Banderist ideology. But their choice was crushed by the military machine, and their longing for liberation has lasted too long. That’s the real tragedy of Donbass.”

“Have you ever been under fire or in combat?”

“No combat – journalists’ access to active combat areas, for example, during Debaltsevo liberation, is prohibited. And yes, I’ve been  many times on the positions. I remember vividly an interview with our defenders near Staromikhaylovka, when an enemy tank suddenly started to hit. Militiaman Pavel concealed me behind him. Fortunately, nobody was injured then.

Another time I came under mortar fire near Yasinovataya. Mortar rounds hit the area a hundred meters from our shelter. Our soldiers were concerned, acted quickly and accurately. In such moment the best you can do is not to interfere with them, act without panic and initiative, with full obedience to their commands.

The funny thing is that I got a light concussion, and it happened not on the positions 70 meters from the enemy’s ranks, but at home. In February 2015, Ukrainian artillerists fired from missiles at my street, so I was stunned by the shock wave, and lost my ability to hear for three hours, being in a sticky cotton cocoon without any sound perception from outside. That’s, in fact, a common story of almost any person who lives in Donetsk. We all found ourselves under fire, every one of us has our own cemetery of lost friends, relatives, neighbors. Remembering them, all the grief of the current war, you can only think of two aims – victory and freedom.”

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